The problem arrives at sunset. Every evening, as twilight blankets the tropical world, the air grows thick with disease on the wing. From daylight hiding places in the humid shadows, the mosquitoes come out, zeroing in on any flesh they can find. Some no doubt, are carrying one of the malaria-causing species of Plasmodium, single-celled parasites that are transported by mosquito from human to human, leaving deadly infections in their wake.
Until recently, many in the United States have remained blithely unaware of the persistence of malaria as a global killer. In most Northern, industrialized countries, the disease was essentially eradicated by the middle of this century. Elsewhere, however, malaria was never brought under control and today a drug-resistant pandemic imperils nearly 40 percent of the world's population. The cause is three-fold. In addition to quickly acquiring resistance to new drugs, the disease gets a big boost from increasing development, which provides perfect breeding conditions for the mosquitoes that spread the disease. Meanwhile, control efforts are hobbled by the lack of safe, affordable insecticides.
In the Indonesian state of Irian Jaya, on the island of New Guinea, all of these elements threaten to send malaria rates to new heights. But at least two projects are keeping the regions in their charge relatively malaria-free. After spending two weeks in an Irian Jaya village with U.S. Navy researchers who are testing new antimalarial drugs, and with malaria control experts at a local mining facility who are keeping malaria at a minimum by eliminating all breeding grounds, author Donovan Webster prepared this special report on the latest battle in a war that spans the ages.